Violence against women services are waiting with bated breath to see who will win this election. Despite the pressing need for continued and expanded investments in sexual assault services, access to legal supports, shelters and access to reproductive health, gender equity has not been centred in either of the first two debates.
Services that women use frequently are often the first to be cut when any new government proposes austerity measures. We fear that Ontario could face a crisis when it comes to gender-based violence services after this election.
May has been a sobering reminder that women are not safe in this province.
On May 24, Elisabeth Salm, a 59-year-old librarian at the Christian Science Reading Room in Ottawa, was beaten and sexually assaulted in her workplace. She died a day later in the hospital.
Earlier this month, Timmins police released the identities of the four people killed in a car fire last month. They were Tammy Gagnon, 34, Cole Gagnon, 16 and Brandi Gagnon, 14. Found close by outside the car was Joey Gagnon, 37. Police said all along that this was a “tragic violent event,” that was “isolated” and that there was “no remaining threat to the public.”
While the police did not provide a motive for the deaths, these words are code for domestic violence homicide.
Since January, approximately 19 women and their families that we know of have been murdered, and men close to them have been charged.
It was not until the third debate this past Sunday that gender equity and sexual violence were raised. There was an opportunity for each leader to highlight their actions, but instead of answering the question, the man who would be premier focused on memes. In addition, in all three debates he has made demeaning remarks, such as “I like to let them go at it” when referring to women leaders and has commented on Wynne’s “nice smile.”
These dismissive comments and the inability to answer a direct question about how he will address sexual violence within his party, as well as gender equity in the province, are extremely worrisome. We need a premier who will point out what they will do to keep women safe and make our communities better places for everyone to thrive.
Voters should be asking candidates about what they will do to end gender-based violence and achieve gender equity.
Ontario Thrive sent a short survey to every candidate asking for their commitment to gender equity. Every major party but one — the Progressive Conservatives — has answered the questionnaire.
We know that with economic security, women are less likely to become trapped in abusive relationships. We also know that research from Catalyst shows that approximately 90 per cent of trans and gender variant employees report experiencing workplace harassment and/or violence stemming from their gender identity and expression. Economic safety is built on safe workplaces, affordable child care, safe transit and a livable minimum wage.
School curriculum that addresses body autonomy, self esteem, gender-based violence and sexual and gender diversity will lead to young people understanding the meaning of consent and that violence — physical, sexual or emotional — is never OK.
Post-secondary education that is safe for students requires meaningful sexual assault policies and procedures supported by true transparency and accountability.
Adequate housing that is safe and affordable means women and their children have somewhere to go when they leave an abusive relationship.
Ongoing implementation of Ontario’s Long Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women will begin to address some of the long-term impacts of colonization, the residential schools program, the ‘60s Scoop of Indigenous children by child protection authorities and ongoing racism.
Long-term, sustained funding for community-based counselling, legal and other services for survivors of male violence will support women in taking the next steps after being subjected to abuse.
Implementation of an Access without Fear policy across the province will allow people with precarious immigration status to reach out to police and other services for assistance without jeopardizing their ability to remain in Canada.
Safety, community health, transit, child care, access to justice, #TimesUp and #MeToo: each of these issues is connected and needs attention in the Ontario provincial election.
These issues are not fringe; nor is 52 per cent of Ontario’s population. Women will vote on June 7. We need everyone’s support to make the elected government accountable to the lives of women. This is the only way that everyone in Ontario can thrive.